Why Dubai is the perfect host

ARTICLE

Why Dubai is the perfect host

From the much-anticipated 2020 International Astronautical Congress to the 2019 World Congress on Water Desalination, Dubai has won the honour of hosting of many of the world’s largest and most prestigious congresses.

My home city has built a worthy reputation as a city of global firsts. Whether it’s the world-leading architecture, enviable infrastructure development, or the rapid growth of visitors to our emirate, the considered programme of economic development and diversification we are implementing in Dubai continues to attract global attention with its achievements.

We try our hardest to make it look easy, but nothing has happened by chance. It is the product of people and of organisations working together towards a common goal, a common vision, to earn a much sought-after result. For my part I have worked at Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) since 2005, and together with my colleagues, we find ourselves an integral part of the emirate’s collective goal to welcome 20 million visitors a year to our shores by 2020.
Visitors who arrive for a combination of business and leisure are an essential component in meeting this target and as a host of trade fairs, conferences and congresses we are striving to make Dubai a compulsory stop on the calendar of international events. Our ability to attract global congresses to debut in the region – and return – is one that we have proven for more than a decade, and is an increasingly vital part of this mix.

Competitive host city

As a host city, Dubai can compete with and exceed the offer of many of our international counterparts. Make no mistake: global competition is tough. From Las Vegas to New York, through a collection of picturesque and interconnected European capitals, we have to work extraordinarily hard to persuade established events to venture somewhere new. But the rewards make the effort worthwhile because enticing high-level international congresses here boosts our global profile and contributes directly to our nation’s development in healthcare, science, industry, technology and business.
Securing a congress for our city and venue is at the very least an emirate-wide affair, and often a national effort. That we have enjoyed success so far is due to the way we have worked together at an individual and organisational level, fostering a spirit of cooperation, consultation and collaboration. This is not new. I have seen it first hand since I first joined the then Convention Bureau of Dubai back in the early 2000s, and in my time with DWTC that collaborative effort has only intensified. When a congress comes to Dubai it does so knowing that it has the total backing of all local stakeholders, from Emirates airline to the Roads & Transport Authority, Dubai Police and others across the public and private sectors.

Record-breaking events

Although determination and purpose have proven essential, other factors are in play. As an emirate we have been able to furnish organisations that grace us with their congresses with a few firsts of their own. For many associations that partner with us it is their first event outside of traditional home territories in Europe and North America. As a well-connected modern city, Dubai has been able to offer these organisations a first exploratory outreach to an audience in the MENA region, and with it the potential to expand their international membership and establish a local foothold.
Our unique combination of connectivity and the size of venue we offer has allowed our partners to reach new heights in the scale and reach of their events. For instance when we hosted Sibos, an event focused on the financial services sector, not only was it their first visit to the region, but it became their largest ever in terms of size space. When the International Diabetes Federation came here at the end of 2011 it brought with it nearly 15,000 participants, a record for the organisation at the time. The following year the World Heart Federation hosted its World Congress of Cardiology & Cardiovascular Health, again breaking records for the number of delegates in attendance and setting the event up for a triumphant return in December this year.

A connected location

Ease of access is essential for these events, where thousands of people have to be moved and Dubai’s connectivity advantages become clear. With two major airlines and three international airports, all within 90 minutes of each other, Dubai and the UAE have built robust links with the more than one-third of the world’s population that lives within a four-hour flight of our city. This huge pool of people brings with it a large potential membership base.
It was a great experience for us to host these events and for their organisations to avail of a first opportunity to work in the region. But more than that it put these organisations, each doing their own important work, in front of a new and obviously enthusiastic audience. People from around the region were given a fresh opportunity to network with their international peers, share ideas and experience the catalytic power of a congress.

Economic impact

There is a significant economic impact from their presence too. While a congress doesn’t bring in the footfall of a massive trade fair – of which we host many – it competes with those larger events in more subtle ways. In 2016 we hosted 12 large-scale congresses at DWTC, attracting close to 55,000 delegates. Locally-based attendees accounted for 45 per cent of footfall – a sure sign of the development of a healthy local base – and international visitors drove economic activity in the emirate. The total economic output of those 12 conferences was worth AED579m ($158m) to the wider Dubai economy, while the Gross Value Added to the Dubai economy by DWTC amounted to AED314m.
The nuance we have found is that the spend per person is greater from congress attendees than visitors to a trade fair. The former spends an average of AED2,440 per day, and the latter AED1,017, the majority of which is accounted for by hotel spend which stands at AED1,497 and AED648 respectively. Some 45 per cent of congress delegates prefer five-star hotels for their stay, compared to 36 per cent in the case of exhibition attendees. Finally, the different dynamic that comes with a congress means that delegates often stay for an extra few days, and are frequently accompanied by family members.
Dubai’s reputation as a family-friendly destination means that it can cater comfortably to both the business and leisure traveller. Added to this is the DWTC venue itself, which, right in the middle of the city, is surrounded by numerous accommodation options at a range of price points, and is connected superbly to the rest of the emirate by numerous private and public transport options, including the expanding Dubai Metro. Having a venue that stands apart from the many high-end hotel chains also offers an advantage when pitching for events from not-for-profit and non-profit member organisations, which may be more sensitive to how expenditure is perceived. 

Stakeholder backing

As we have established our credentials on the global congress circuit our favourable cluster of facilities, combined with a large potential audience, has seen key events return again and again. An important part of making this possible is the significant government support the congress agendas receive. In healthcare, an industry forecast to be worth $28bn in the UAE by 2021, Dubai has built a reputation as a regional medical hub attracting investment into the sector and building an outstanding healthcare system. It is no surprise then that congresses with a focus on healthcare issues of local and regional concern, such as diabetes, should receive the backing that helps them succeed.
Other sectors that have had similar success, based on Dubai’s commitment to enhancing its knowledge economy, are as varied as financial services, transport, desalination and even space exploration. After much planning and effort Dubai won its bids to host both the much-anticipated 2019 World Congress on Water Desalination, and the 2020 International Astronautical Congress. These subjects are close to the heart of the emirate: the former is essential to our daily lives, while the latter represents our future ambitions for the nation and its people. Both are areas in which we strive to share what we know, and learn more from others.

Success by association

In just a few weeks we will also welcome the MENA Transport Congress & Exhibition. Organised by the International Association of Public Transport (UITP), the organisation is a passionate champion of sustainable urban mobility, a subject increasingly at the forefront of Dubai’s thinking. The UITP is an example of how an organisation used Dubai to establish a foothold in the MENA region and then expand. The MENA Division of the organisation was formed in 2005 and thanks to successful events in Dubai has its largest number of members ever, supported by a MENA office based in Dubai and the Roads & Transport Authority acting as host of UITP’s Regional MENA Congress for five terms, from 2014 out to 2022.
Such growth opportunities have been facilitated by the changes made to encourage international associations to establish themselves here full-time. The Dubai Association Centre (DAC) was created to assist international associations in attaining the appropriate business licence for local registration – a rarity in the region. DAC is a joint initiative of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in collaboration with the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing and DWTC to help establish non-profit, apolitical and non-religious professional associations and trade bodies in the emirate.
In December we were pleased to host our inaugural Dubai Association Conference as a platform for dialogue and education. On the international stage we are proud of our active membership of the International Congress and Convention Association, and look forward to hosting that organisation’s international congress in November this year.
I believe these efforts go a long way to demonstrate our unified commitment to being the perfect host for international congresses. While we have more to do to make the most of the opportunity these exciting global events have to offer, we already have all the hard infrastructure and soft skills in place.
We know are just at the start of our journey, but I hope you will join us for the rest of the way. 

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  • Events